The acceptance of the LGBT community around the world has largely been focussed in the Americas and Western Europe; the recent success in the United States has been the latest victory in the fight for equality however there are some part of Europe that due to right-wing governments and/or conservative social attitudes have prevented the legalisation of same-sex marriage. This article was specifically look at the campaigns for marriage equality in Italy, Germany and Greece which I believe are prime candidates to be the next countries to undo this injustice.
On first appearances it may appear optimistic that Italy, whose population according the CIA World Factbook is 80% Christian with this group being “overwhelmingly Catholic”, may be the next European country to legalize same-sex marriage but Italy, considering its collective religiosity, has been quite tolerant of homosexuality and has been legal since 1890 including under Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. In Italy public opinion has changed significantly on equal marriage is the thing that is pressuring politicians to act. For the first time ever a Demos poll in 2014 showed a majority (55%) supported same sex marriage with a significant minority (42%) opposed. The importance of such a poll is that in other countries very few people that support equal marriage switched sides whereas people who were opposed to same-sex marriage and people whoa re undecided are much more likely to do so; it is hard to know whether this trend is likely to apply to Italy due to the religiosity of Italian society but LGBT rights activists across Europe look to Ireland as a shining example of a religious society embracing marriage equality.
Traditionally conservative attitudes are still present in Italian society, as was seen in the last few weeks when the Mayor of Venice Luigi Brugnaro has prohibited Pride parades during his time as mayor saying that “there will never be a Gay Pride in my city”. Similarly, because Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is attempting to remain electable to the more conservative parts of the country, he is only proposing the introduction of civil unions in the same mould of civil partnerships in the UK which he believes would prevent significant electoral losses and also bring Italy into line with a European Court of Human Rights decision that ruled that LGBT people’s rights were being violates because there was no legal provision for them.
Renzi has been reserved about whether he supports equal marriage or just civil unions but I would also say that the poll has strengthened the hand of LGBT activists who can now call for a referendum like in Ireland which could be Renzi’s way out; if Renzi doesn’t want to legislate in fear of reprisals it would be harder for him to lose votes if the issues is decided directly by the population as Renzi could argue that he couldn’t deny the Italian people a democratic vote. Due to Renzi’s unwillingness to speak about his own opinions on the subject it is unclear as to whether, in the event of a referendum, he would campaign against equality or not but having the majority of public opinion in support of same-sex marriage would mean that doing so would be more electorally damaging than voting against a bill in Parliament.
Germany has also been slow at allowing marriage equality but this too is under threat as a result of changing public opinion. According to a YouGov poll in May 2015 65% of people support same-sex marriage with the support broken down by party showing that a majority of all the major national parties support marriage equality: 57% of CDU voters, 79% of SPD voters, 68% of Die Linke voters and 94% of Green voters. The same poll also showed the more divisive issue of same-sex adoption is also supported by 57% of people compared with 35% opposed and 8% of undecided.
The response of political parties to this increase of support has been unfortunate as the electoral maths doesn’t add up for pro-LGBT advocates. Chancellor Merkel has said as recently as July 2015 that she views marriage as between “a man and a woman living together” which would mean that a referendum on the subject would be out of the question as public opinion is opposed to her position. As long as Merkel is the Chancellor there will be no progress on this issue as, despite the CDU/CSU supporting the equality of rights for LGBT people regarding finances, The Union doesn’t support equal marriage or same-sex adoption. Their ideological position stems from Christian conservatism so the easiest way to achieve marriage equality in Germany, either through legislation or through referendum, would be to remove The Union from power. The only other way would be for the SDP in the current Grand Coalition to propose a referendum but this would be unlikely as they are the junior partner and the programme for government was decided upon in 2013 after the last Bundestag election.
The final country in Europe that could well be on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage is Greece. The acceptance of same-sex marriage in Greece would be significant as it would be the first country in the world whose largest religious group was Orthodox Christianity to legalize marriage equality. In recent years Greek society has been accepting of the LGBT community with many cities and islands benefiting from such attitudes; Athens Pride has been celebrated annually since 2005, Thessaloniki is a very gay-friendly city and has its own Pride event since 2012 and the islands of Myconos, Eressos and Lesbos have all famously economically benefited from targeting LGBT tourists. These positive societal attitudes have also spread to other parts of Greece with Crete holding its first ever Pride parade in Herakilion in June 2015.
Polling has consistently supported these perceptions with a Focus Bari poll finding repeated support of the LGBT community among its respondents: 54% supported stricter laws to punish homophobic crimes, 76% supported homosexuality being acceptable in society, 70% supported the extension of civil partnerships to gay couples, and for the first time a majority (56%) supported same-same marriage. Unfortunately only 30% of people supported same-sex adoption however in 2006 a Eurobarometer poll showed that this number was as low as 11%. As with support for equality in Italy this is in the face of huge opposition from the largest Christian organisation in the country, which in this case is the Greek Orthodox Church. The growing support for the LGBT community despite organised opposition is also showing that the views of religious institutions in countries that have overwhelmingly religious populations are becoming less relevant, which in this instance is very encouraging.
As a result of the political and economic instability of Greece, the Hellenic Parliament is largely discussing economic affairs or is in the process of being elected due to the frequency of elections and the rights of LGBT people are not taken as being a pressing issue. However according to recent opinion polling the radical leftist and secular party SYRIZA is projected to have around 130 seats in the Hellenic Parliament which is 21 seats short of a majority; based on the same polling other left-wing parties would have the remaining seats to made up a working majority however two of these, Popular Unity and the Communist Party of Greece, disagree with SYRIZA on economic policies and may not form a coalition.
Irrespective of these policy disagreements all three parties agree on the issue of extending civil unions to same-sex couples; although this would only be partial progress figures inside SYRIZA, when asked about same-sex marriage, have stated their opposition to all forms of discrimination and many of the political parties that merged to form SYRIZA had policies supporting equal marriage. The second most popular party in Greece, the centre-right New Democracy has publicly said that they oppose same-sex marriage, as well as the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, but if the current polling is shown to be accurate this opposition will not be enough to stop the passage of same-sex marriage legislation as these two parties are projected to have around 100 seats out of the 300 member parliament.
Marriage equality in Europe has been long established but until now there has been a divide between the the more religious countries and those more secular; the growth in public support for LGBT rights in these religious countries is incredibly significant it it would show to people around the world that it is possible to be both religious and a supporter of same-sex marriage thus opening the door for future progress in other countries around the world.
Unfortunately an ideological divide is becoming more prominent as those countries with right-wing governments are less likely to introduce marriage equality. As a result of the authoritarian governments of many countries in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall, right-wing governments rooted in Christian social conservatism have becoming very electorally successful illustrating that progress on LGBT rights may come to a depressingly sudden halt.